What happens when a 19-year-old programmer extensively covered by media outlets this week probably doesn't exist?
Here's what we think we know about Sarah Hanson: she's a 19-year-old who dropped out of an unnamed college after her first year to start Senior Living Map, a start-up that helps people find senior living centers without the help of a care adviser. She allegedly lives in Seattle, Washington. She also allegedly sold 10 percent of her income over the next ten years to an anonymous San Francisco angel investor in exchange for an $125,000 investment in her company, via an auction website. Other than that, there's no trace of her existence on the internet. Anywhere.
Which seems weird. For a 19-year-old who has allegedly been coding since she was 12-years-old, you would think there would be a Facebook account, a Twitter account, even a LinkedIn, maybe. There might be something, but there's not. And it wasn't until after VentureBeat's John Koetsier published an interview with the alleged Hanson that the evidence tipped him off that this person he's emailing with -- not speaking with in person or on the phone -- may not exist.
After a television reporter contacted Koetsier this week wondering about Hanson's existence, he started to wonder. His piece was well received and picked up by more than a few media outlets. If Hanson ended up being a fake, well, that would be problematic. Was he catfished?
He couldn't find any information backing up her claims on the social networks. He reviewed her answers from his interview and started to wonder. Nothing was very specific. Hanson's website, Senior Living Map, which is developed and has some functionality already, was scant on details. There was only one contact address and very little information about the developer. That's unusual, especially for a site from a young person trying to sell herself to angel investors. He noticed that, despite claims in the site's terms of service, Senior Living Map was not registered as a company in the state of Washington, or Nevada, or Delaware. Adding to the intrigue, Hanson's auction closed after only three bids. The winner, whose identity Hanson previously declined to reveal to Koetsier, won with a $125,000 bid. That means, essentially, that someone believed that Hanson would personally make at least $1.25 million over the next ten years to recoup the investment. The very real possibility that Sarah Hanson does not exist started to creep into Koetsier's skull, so he offered this mea culpa Saturday:
So here we are. I can’t guarantee that the woman I wrote a story about exists. And I can’t disprove it at the moment, either. All I can do is lay out what I have learned so far, and keep digging to learn more. If I have written about a fake, constructed persona, and have been the victim of an elaborate hoax, either for publicity or kicks or some as-yet-unknown reason, I apologize to VentureBeat readers.
Doing some basic Internet sleuthing, here's what the Atlantic Wire was able to come up with. The picture Hanson attached to her auction doesn't show up anywhere except on stories about her auction when plugged into a Google image search. Which means, that seems to be its original source on the Internet, lending some veracity to her existence. Unless it's totally doctored through Photoshop, which is a possibility. Hanson's site was also registered through a proxy domain registry site, according to a WHOIS search. DomainsByProxy lets users register domains and keep their identity hidden from administrative searches like WHOIS.
Why would a 19-year-old trying to sell herself to investors cover up her identity when registering her website's domain name? Your guess is as good as ours. For now, until Hanson starts responding to emails, it certainly doesn't seem like she's a real person.